By MYA SHONE
“We, at the World Health Organization [WHO] think that the world is now in the greatest possible danger of a pandemic,” stated Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the WHO’s Western Pacific Regional Director on Feb. 23, 2005 at a three-day Avian Bird Flu Conference in Ho Chi Minh City. The Avian Bird Flu – H5N1, the WHO concluded, was much more lethal than the strain found in Hong Kong in 1997. “There is an increasing risk of the spread of the avian flu influenza,” Dr. Kasai warned, “that no poultry-keeping country can ignore.”
Two days earlier, at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Julie Gerberding, then-director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States stressed: “Scientists believe that it is highly likely that the avian flu virus that has spread through bird populations in Asia will evolve into a pathogen that was deadly to humans. The reason that it is so ominous,” she explained, “is that this new strain is one to which the human population has no immunity.”
Both the CDC and the WHO urged governments to prepare for a pandemic that could kill multi-millions as had prior ones throughout the modern era.
More Deaths Than From Weapons of War
1918-1919: The H1 virus had been first reported in Canton, China but became known commonly as the Spanish flu because of the extensive reporting by journalists in Spain. There were three waves of this influenza epidemic. The second wave in late August 1918 was the most lethal, but a third wave emerged in March and April 1919. Schools and factories were closed as over half the world’s population became sick with the flu — 1 billion people out of the world population at the time of 1.7 billion. As many as 40 million to 50 million people died – 4% of those stricken with the disease. More soldiers who served in World War I died from the H1 virus than from weapons of war. The number dead surpassed the number who died from the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) during the Middle Ages.
February 1957: A second pandemic developed with a bird virus origin. This was H2, the Asian Flu, so called because it originated in China. By the time it worked its way around the world 1 million people had died, 70,000 of them in the United States during the late summer and early autumn.
1968 saw yet another pandemic — H3 — a further permutation of the H bird virus. This was called the Hong Kong flu. Three quarters of a million people died throughout the world.
Thus, in January 2005, when the outbreak of a highly pathogenic strain of H5N1 appeared among multiple species of birds in more than half of its cities and provinces of Vietnam, the Vietnamese government took swift action. An order was issued for more than 1.2 million captive poultry to be slaughtered immediately.
The great fear among public health officials was that this particular avian flu also would evolve and spread among humans. By the end of September, David Navarro, the United Nations System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza, warned that an outbreak of avian influenza could kill between 5 million and 150 million people and called on governments to rush the development of a human vaccine.
Humanity escaped this time. The H5N1 virus that devastated the avian population did not develop into a human pandemic. While an estimated 140 million birds in many parts of the world, including migratory birds, either died or were killed because of the outbreak, only some human cases were reported with 74 people dying in several Asian countries.
Public health experts and virologists knew, however, that it was not a question of if, but when. Consequently, emergency plans were drafted and experimental H5N1 vaccines were created and tested. Antiviral drugs were stockpiled. On Feb. 13, 2019 Helen Branswell reported in Stat News: “The virus continued to kill chickens and occasionally to infect and sometimes kill people. But as the years passed,” Branswell noted, “the number of human H5N1 cases subsided. There has not been a single H5N1 human infection detected since February 2017.”
Don’t become complacent
Don’t become complacent, warned Malik Peiris, professor of virology at the University of Hong Kong. “The H5N1 virus has not gone away. It’s just changed into different versions of itself,” he observed.
In addition to H2N1 there are cousins, so to speak, such as H7N9. H7N9 emerged in China in 2013. While only 1,500 people became ill in China over the next five years, the virus proved to be exceptionally lethal, killing roughly 40% of those infected. After a surge of cases — 766 — in early 2017, only three cases were recorded in 2018 and none were reported in 2019.
This brings us to a discussion of the current pandemic sweeping the world – COVID-19. It had been 17 years since Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus, first appeared in the Guangdong province of southern China. Within months, SARS spread to 26 countries in Europe, North America, South America, and Asia. By the time the global outbreak was contained in July 2003, over 8,000 people worldwide were diagnosed with SARS and 10% of them — 800 people with known infections were dead. Once again, there was no known treatment, and only supportive care could be administered.
Scarcely nine years passed before a second SARS outbreak was identified in Saudi Arabia in April 2012. This time it was a betacoronavirus. It was named Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) because of its first reported location. It didn’t reach epidemic proportions but still concerned public health officials because of the very high 34.5% mortality rate. Since the initial outbreak, the CDC has reported 2,442 laboratory-confirmed infections, most of them on the Arabian Peninsula, with 842 people dead.
On the Heels of SARS
On Dec. 31, 2019, only seven years later, Dr. Li Wenliang sent a “WeChat message” to a few colleagues. Dr. Li had been treating seven patients who were under quarantine in a hospital in the city of Wuhan. He thought these pneumonia cases might be caused by a SARS-like virus and warned doctors to wear protective gear.
The Chinese government no longer could keep news of the virus under wraps. It sent notice that same day to the World Health Organization that officials in Wuhan were trying to cope with an outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus which caused severe illness.
It took but a few days for Chinese scientists to sequence the genome and make the data available to researchers worldwide. Dr. Li’s surmise had been correct. Once again, the world was confronted with a SARS coronavirus similar to that first identified by the WHO in 2003 for which there was no known treatment except supportive care. The WHO named the virus SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Corona Virus-2).
The WHO Sounds the Alarm
Officials at the WHO were becoming increasingly alarmed. Chinese officials acknowledged on Jan. 21 that new cases stemmed from human-to-human transmission, that is, that they were community acquired. Two days later, on Jan. 23, Wuhan, China, a city of some 11 million people, was placed under state-imposed lockdown, with all flights, trains and buses cancelled and highway entrances blocked.
Other cities in Hubei province adopted similar restrictions. The unprecedented sweeping measures taken by the Chinese government affected more than 60 million people. Before long, authorities in other Chinese cities and provinces followed suit until 760 million Chinese – one in 10 people on earth – were sheltered at home.
On Jan. 30, 2020 the World Health Organization issued an alert worldwide that the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern for which governments throughout the world should prepare. By Feb. 11, the WHO announced a name for the new coronavirus disease — COVID-19 — that would evolve soon afterwards into a worldwide pandemic. Here was a virus that could — and soon would — fulfill the worst-case scenario of public health officials. Left unchecked, the rate of infections would increase exponentially. Healthcare systems in even the most advanced industrial nations would be unable to handle the number of patients requiring intensive care. Untold numbers of people, particularly the elderly and others with underlying health conditions, such as, pulmonary, heart, cancer, obesity, and diabetes, could be expected to die.
Trump Ignores the Warnings
Throughout January, as the epidemic of unprecedented size for the modern era was developing in China, in the United States, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA prepared daily briefing papers and digests for President Trump filled with ominous reports about the novel coronavirus
Yet, nothing was prepared. At the highest level of federal government, the president dismissed the concerns of his intelligence and health officials and then sought to muzzle them. It wasn’t just their description of how COVID-19 could engulf the United States and overwhelm the healthcare system; Trump also defied their recommendations about how to proceed to stem the tide and save lives.
Noted the Washington Post, March 20: “The surge in warnings,” revealed the Post, didn’t result in a massive public health response. Instead, it “coincided with a move by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) to sell dozens of stocks worth between $628,033 and $1.72 million.” Burr, as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, “was privy to virtually all of the highly classified reporting on the coronavirus.”
Burying the Evidence
Public health officials do not pull their predictions and recommendations out of a hat. Aside from their experience handling past epidemics and pandemics, federal agencies conduct simulations regularly. The last scenario, reported the New York Times, March 19, was carried out only months ago by the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services. Code-named “Crimson Contagion” it included a series of exercises that ran from January to August 2019 in Washington D.C. and 12 states, including New York and Illinois.
The simulation imagined an outbreak of a “respiratory virus that began in China and was quickly spread around the world by air travelers, who ran high fevers. In the United States, it was first detected in Chicago, and 47 days later, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. By then,” continues the Times, “110 million Americans were expected to become ill, leading to 7.7 million hospitalized and 586,000 dead.”
Above all, the simulation exposed “confusion” in the federal response as hospitals struggled to locate equipment. Eventually cities and states had no choice but to act on their own.
In retrospect, this particular simulation appears prescient, in regard both to the trajectory of the current pandemic as well as the Trump administration’s refusal to respond effectively to it. The Trump administration didn’t leap into action despite the horrifying result predicted in this comprehensive simulation. Instead, the simulation report was buried and news of its conclusions didn’t see the light of day until the New York Times report on March 19, when the U.S. already was in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This Should Not Come As a Surprise
“Public health and national security experts shake their heads,” reported the Washington Post on March 13, “when President Donald Trump says the coronavirus ‘came out of nowhere’ and ‘blindsided the world.’
“They’ve been warning about the next pandemic for years,” the Post continued, “and criticized the Trump administration’s decision in 2018 to dismantle a National Security Council directorate at the White House charged with preparing for when, not if, another pandemic would hit the nation. … Trump’s elimination of the office suggested, along with his proposed budget cuts for the CDC, that he did not see the threat of pandemics in the same way that many experts in the field did.”
On Feb. 27, when the U.S. had but 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19, President Trump was suggesting that the virus could be seasonal. “It’s going to disappear, Trump insisted. “One day, it’s like a miracle. It will disappear.” Even as late as March 9, with the virus making its way across the continent, Trump tweeted at 4:48 pm: “Nothing is shut down, life and the economy go on.”
As had occurred during last year’s Department of Health and Human Services simulation, it did not take long before city and state officials abandoned looking towards the federal government for action. There were few if any test kits, supplies of essential protective gear for healthcare workers were in short supply and there weren’t enough beds or ventilators to handle people who required critical care.
The Last Resort
Mayors and governors, as well as the leaders of the Navajo Nation, following the examples of other countries, took matters into their own hands. They resorted to “social distancing” in an attempt to “flatten the curve” of new cases.
By mid-March, schools were closed in various parts of the country, businesses shuttered except for those providing essential services, and the stock market plunged. By Tuesday, March 24, over 175 million people in 17 states, 26 counties, and 10 cities in the U.S joined the millions around the world who had been ordered or urged to stay home.
Meanwhile, on that same day, March 24, Trump called for easing shelter at home guidelines very soon and for sending people back to close contact in schools, the workplace, and social activities. By April 12, he announced on Fox News, “you’ll have packed churches all over our country.”
State and local officials took guidance instead from their public health officials. By March 27, only three days later, 48 million more people in the U.S. had been required or advised to shelter at home. The total had reached 223 million people in at least 24 states, 74 counties, 14 cities and one territory, more than two-thirds of the population. (New York Times)
How The Pandemic Evolved
With increased world travel, SARS-CoV-2, first reported in Wuhan, China, spread rapidly before the Chinese government imposed strict restrictions to contain transmission. The world stood by shocked as draconian measures were instituted and the Chinese economy and the provincial economy was brought to a halt, but public health officials worldwide knew already there was no choice to stem the viral tsunami that would soon overtake China and the world.
Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province in central China’s industrial heartland, is renowned for its iron and steel manufacturing. According to UNESCO, half of the world’s long-span bridges and 60% of high-speed railways have been designed by Wuhan engineers. Its automobile and parts industry include joint ventures with several foreign carmakers, such as General Motors and Renault. An estimated 1.7 million vehicles were produced in Wuhan alone in 2018. There is a major airport, ferry ports and three major rail stations serving 22,000 miles of rail lines in and out of Wuhan.
The New York Times on March 22 reported in an online graphic display entitled “How the Virus Spread,” that “The timing of the outbreak could not have been worse. Hundreds of millions of people were about to travel back to their home towns for the Lunar New Year.
On Jan. 1, “at least 175,000 people left Wuhan just on that day,” according to a Times analysis of data published by Baidu and major telecoms, which tracked the movements of cell phones. “The departures,” the Times, reports, “accelerated over the next three weeks. About 7 million people left in January before travel was restricted. Thousands of travelers were infected.”
“As the outbreak moved across China in early January,” the Times reported, “international travel from Wuhan continued as normal. Thousands of people flew out of Wuhan to cities around the world.” The first documented overseas case appeared mid-January when a 61-year-old woman had traveled from Wuhan to Bangkok, Thailand, suffering from a fever, headache and sore throat — what she thought had been the flu.
Cases soon showed up in Tokyo, Singapore, Seoul, and Hong Kong and the first U.S. case was confirmed Jan. 20 when a 35-year old man, who had traveled to Wuhan returned to Washington State. Before long, COVID-19 reached all 50 states, Washington D.C. Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. By the end of March, COVID-19 had spread to all continents except Antarctica, with confirmed cases in the outer reaches of Mongolia and the tropical islands of Fiji and Papua, New Guinea and cases were no longer caused by travelers but by community-acquired transmission.
After all is said and done, the numbers of people infected worldwide, let alone in the United States, will never be known because of limited testing and reporting. We know, however, that by March 11, over 124,000 cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with over 4,500 deaths. By March 22, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center listed 169 countries with 329,275 confirmed cases of which 74% come from outside mainland China, 14,376 deaths meaning that 75% of COVID-19 deaths now come from outside China.
By March 24, only two days later, the number had increased to 417,966 with 18,614 deaths (53,972 in the U.S. with 712 deaths). New York City became the worldwide epicenter as documented cases topped 25,000. Just two days later, March 26, the number of cases confirmed in the United States (81,321) surpassed all those in China which has over four times the population. It had been less than a month (Feb. 29) since the first coronavirus-related death had occurred in King County, Washington.
By March, too, recriminations and alleged conspiracies of biowarfare took off: President Donald Trump, in search of an enemy, made incessant references to COVID-19 as the “China virus” in daily press briefings deployed as a substitute for his cancelled campaign rallies. Trump not only inspired racist attacks against Asian-Americans, as he had done previously with remarks against other people of color, but fueled speculation about an insidious Chinese origin. The British newspaper the Daily Mail, as well as the U.S. conservative newspaper the Washington Times, as well as the digital magazine Global Research all speculated that there might have been a viral leak from the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, which is part of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Not to be outdone, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian sent out a Twitter post on March 12 that was posted and reposted throughout China in which he speculated about U.S. biowarfare origins: “It might be U.S. army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” he wrote.
U.S scientists soon put to rest speculation that the virus was of test tube origin, whether of U.S. or Chinese origin.
Understanding the Virus Itself
Scripps Research Institute reported on March 17 that an analysis of public genome sequence data from SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses found no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered (“The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2,” published in Nature Medicine). Scientists even figured out how the virus infected people: They found that the RBD (receptor-binding-domain), a kind of grappling hook that grips onto host cells, acts as a molecular can opener to allow the virus to enter host cells. It has evolved to target effectively a molecular feature on the outside of human cells called ACE2, a receptor involved in regulating blood pressure.
The international group of research scientists concluded that there are two possible scenarios to explain the origin of SARS-CoV-2. It evolved through natural selection in a non-human host and then jumped to humans as have previous coronavirus outbreaks — civets for SARS and camels for MERS. Bats have been proposed as the most likely reservoir because the SARS-CoV-2 as it is very similar to a bat coronavirus. Since there are no documented instances of bat-human transmission, it is speculated that an intermediate host was involved.
A second scenario is that a non-pathogenic version of the virus jumped from a different animal host, such as pangolins, into humans and then evolved within humans to its current pathogenic state within the human population.
Understanding the mechanism of how the virus works may help researchers develop treatment options and, eventually, vaccines to prevent future outbreaks of this specific virus. It does not, however, have impact on the criminal mismanagement of the COVID-19 or future pandemics that threaten the lives and livelihood of billions of workers and communities of the oppressed worldwide.
Thus, it has never been a question of if, but when.
In 2005, when health officials worldwide were concerned that the Asian Bird Flu could create a worldwide pandemic, Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone prepared a meticulously documented series — “Creating the Next Pandemic” — for their Pacifica radio network program, Taking Aim with Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone. The shows can be accessed on the Taking Aim archive at http://www.takingaimnow.com. Scroll down to the dates below and press on the download option to listen. [Please note that the home page is outdated and that the show is no longer on the air.]
Creating the Next Pandemic
050315 Part One
050322 Part Two
050329 Part Three: Staging the Operation
050405 Part Four: Unraveling the Fabric of Life
050419 Part Five: Weapons of the Terror State
050426 Part Six: The New Dr. Strangelove’s Biological Armageddon
060411 Part Seven: From Military Lab to Mass Infection
060418 Part Eight: Profits and Repression
- The Swine Flu Epidemic in Mexico and the Resort to Military Rule